The City of Hartsville is bustling with a renewed vibrancy. Boutiques, restaurants and two hotels have taken up residency downtown. In fact, a total of 41 downtown businesses have opened in Hartsville since the city joined the Main Street South Carolina program in 2014.
In December, Hartsville, Williamston and Gaffney will become the first three cities to graduate from Main Street South Carolina’s Boot Camp program. The boot camp is an intensive technical assistance and training program for communities competitively selected for the Main Street SC program. The Main Street America approach focuses on a cost-effective method of attracting new investment to downtown districts while reusing the existing building stock and leveraging amenities.
In December, Gaffney, Williamston and Hartsville will become the first three cities to graduate from Main Street South Carolina's Boot Camp program.
During the boot camp, Hartsville created a startup challenge which offered funds and other incentives to local entrepreneurs to help them establish their businesses downtown, according to Suzy Moyd, executive director of Main Street Hartsville. Contestants received assistance in developing business plans, establishing mentors, seeking funding and finding locations. They also received help with branding, marketing, social media and promotions.
The Mantissa Executive Suites and Spa in Hartsville was once a run-down furniture store but now features a boutique hotel with a medical spa, a fine dining restaurant and rooftop bar.
The city also established its #ConnectHartsville project, which paired local downtown merchants with students from the SC Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics to create a social media presence for the businesses. The project has allowed the businesses to strengthen their online exposure while giving students real-life educational opportunities.
Continuing to draw on the strengths of its students and young people, the city also works closely with Coker College, the private liberal arts college located in downtown Hartsville. Moyd said she includes a Coker student and faculty liaison on her Main Street Advisory Board so they can work together on events and compare needs. Many students intern with the city and Main Street Hartsville for credit hours.
A second boot camp program graduate, the Town of Williamston, launched its Inaugural Scarecrow Decorating Contest in 2015. Local organizations, families, businesses and individuals submitted more than 40 entries. The scarecrows decorated the town throughout autumn, creating a community-driven celebration, according to Sonya Crandall, executive director of Envision Williamston.
An entry in the Town of Williamston's Inaugural Scarecrow Decorating Contest.
Williamston also used signs and guides to better promote the town. The signs mark prominent locations such as the park, farmers market and town hall. They created the town’s first Dining and Shopping Guide, featuring 20 restaurants and 33 retail establishments around town. Billboards, posters and rack cards inform residents and visitors about events in town.
Envision Williamston made efforts to attract new businesses, as well. The organization redesigned its Business Assistance Guide to provide contact information and explain the startup process for new businesses. It also formed a New Business Recruitment Task Force to work with business prospects and reach out to local property owners with available properties in town.
The third boot camp graduate, Gaffney, made strides in beautifying the downtown area. In June, the Gaffney Main Street Team awarded façade grants to five downtown businesses to help with building improvements, such as awnings and painting, according to Fawn Leigh, assistant director of My Downtown Gaffney.
Gaffney's new business incubator, bGEN, has housed at least seven businesses. Photo/bGEN.
Gaffney’s new business incubator, bGEN, also received a grant to help fund a large awning for its facility. bGEN opened in May, and seven businesses and one nonprofit have already located there, Leigh said.
The building improvements sparked other beautification efforts.
"Other business owners are cleaning up their stores, painting trim, planting flowers and just becoming more involved in the process," Leigh said.
Now that the cities have completed boot camp, they will move to a second tier of the Main Street SC program where they will receive ongoing maintenance support. Other cities are also participating in the boot camp program. Georgetown and Sumter will graduate at the end of 2017, and Aiken and Moncks Corner will move to the second tier of maintenance support at the end of 2018.
Main Street SC will advertise and accept applications on a competitive basis in the fourth quarter each year for admission into the program effective January 1 of the following year. Cities interested in becoming a Main Street SC member should contact Beppie LeGrand, Main Street SC manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803.933.1231.